Stuttering John: Why I quit Howard Stern for ‘The Tonight Show’
He asked celebrities such as Ringo Starr, Ted Williams, Jennifer Flowers and even the Dalai Lama embarrassing questions at press conferences, cracking up listeners to "The Howard Stern Show." He then went on to become the announcer for "The Tonight Show" with Jay Leno and now, Stuttering John Melendez looks back in his new book "Easy For You To Say." John dished a lot about his former colleagues to New Jersey 101.5.
For 10 years I did the local updates from WYSP in Philadelphia and loved every minute of it. I was with Melendez the night before he started the Stern show at Howard's Super Bowl party in 1988. He was nervous about what lay ahead. He then went on to fame, if not fortune, as the stuttering guy who asked the outrageous questions at the celebrity press conferences. Melendez once asked Ringo Starr what he did with the money. "What money?" "The money your mom gave you for singing lessons."
When I asked Melendez about the money he made on Stern he replied, "It took two years and then they got the channel 9 show, my first paycheck was for $750 a week but it only lasted two seasons." When it came to K-ROCK Melendez says, "[General Manager] Tom Chiusano said that they'll pay me $10,000 a year and he called it a stipend." John then laughed, "That's $200 a week, and I was in the heyday of Stuttering John. That was like the first three or four years." John called it "Bizarro World" because then Mel Karmazin, whom Melendez says is "another despicable person," upped it to $20,000 a year.
Melendez opened up about why he left the Stern show and it wasn't only about the money. "I didn't want to, you know, hear Howard in my head every day and you know talking to us on the show, at least to me, and saying I'm worthless, I'm not funny. You know the only reason why I make money is because I stutter and all these things. I mean he told me to abort my first child ... because I wasn't fit to be a father ... but this is on the air.”
Unlike many who believe Stern's radio persona is an act and he's really a nice guy off the air, Melendez sees it's the other way around.
"People don't understand, they go, 'Is Howard a good guy off the air?' And I'll go he's a great guy off the air, and they would say well then on the air is all an act. And I go, no, off the air is all an act."
In the end, John couldn't wait to leave the show.
"I couldn't wait to get out of there. When I met my wife and the mother of my three children, I said — you know that was like five years in for me on the Stern Show — I said, ‘Suzanna I gotta get out of here. I can't hear all this again.’ This is what I dealt with as a kid, a 5-year-old kid and my father's like smacking me around, you know. One day he's a great guy and the next day he's hitting you and it was such a hard thing because you love them one day, you hate him the next. And then I go to Howard and it's the same exact thing all over again."
Then came the opportunity to be the announcer on "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno" for a half million dollars a year for almost 10 years.
"I'm a film and television major from NYU. That's all I would ever want to do, so it was like, it was like, 'Hey! My dream came true.'"
Melendez says two of the things he learned from Leno as far as stand-up comedy is "have a good memory of your act and never write a new one." Melendez says that's why Leno doesn't put anything on YouTube.
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